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Currituck ended solar ban in January

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Currituck commissioners approved amendments to the county's Unified Development Ordinance last month that allow construction of new solar farms in the county like this one owned by Sun Energy 1 shown March 21, 2017.

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By Chris Day
Multimedia Editor

Friday, February 22, 2019

CURRITUCK — Currituck County’s two-year ban on new solar farm construction came to an end last month after officials approved an amendment to the county’s master development ordinance. 

At their Jan. 22 meeting, the Board of Commissioners voted 4-3 in favor of an amendment to allow construction of new solar energy facilities, or solar farms, throughout the county. 

The decision amends Chapter 4 of the county’s Unified Development Ordinance and contains new regulations and requirements for solar farms. The amendment essentially lifts the county’s ban on solar projects that dates back to January 2017, when commissioners imposed a 60-day moratorium. A month later, commissioners imposed an all-out ban on approval of new solar farms. 

The amendment also removes language governing the development of large wind energy facilities, essentially banning approval of any wind projects for the foreseeable future.     

According to minutes from the Jan. 22 meeting, commissioners voting for the amendment were Owen Etheridge, Selina Jarvis, Kevin McCord and commission Vice Chairman Mike Payment.

Voting against the amendment were commissioners Paul Beaumont, Mary “Kitty” Etheridge and commission Chairman Bob White. 

Prior to the vote several members of the public addressed the board. 

Jerry Wright, a Jarvisburg resident and lifelong farmer, said he’s discussed using his property for solar energy and he’d like to see solar farms be allowed, the minutes state. Another resident and farmer told the board that “farming has become difficult” and he’d like to lease part of his land for solar energy projects.

Andy White, a representative of First Solar, discussed his company’s interest in building a 1,000-acre project in the county, the minutes state. 

The amendment commissioners approved includes the following conditions and modifications:

* During the construction phase of a new solar facility the hours of operation will be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday. No construction is allowed on Sunday. 

* The maximum height of a solar facility, including all equipment, is not to exceed 20 feet.

* A decommissioning plan for a solar facility must be updated every three years, or with any property transfer to a new owner that’s not a member of the previous owner’s family. 

The new regulations also state that no more than two abutting properties can be used for a new solar project. The size of a new project is also limited to 250 acres or to one-half of the total acreage of the property as it existed when the project was approved. So, if a project is approved for a 1,000-acre site, the solar facility itself can only be approved for 500 acres. 

All panels, equipment and related security fencing for a solar project must be set back 300 feet from a major street right-of-way and 150 feet from all other N.C. Department of Transportation street rights-of-way and property lines. There also must be a 100-foot setback from N.C. Division of Coastal Management-designated navigable waters, federally or state designated wetlands and significant natural heritage areas.

Before construction can begin, a specific type of opaque buffer or earthen berm must be built, and it must be as tall as the project’s tallest solar panel. Monitoring wells near the center of the solar farm site and along each exterior property line at its lowest point of elevation are also required. 

The new regulations also address the decommissioning of solar farms. Solar farm owners must now post a performance guarantee to ensure a facility’s site is returned to its condition prior to construction. The performance guarantee must be equal to 115 percent of the estimated cost of decommissioning and will not allow for reductions based on salvage value. 

Commissioners approved the new rules and regulations on recommendation of the county’s Planning Board. 

The amendment to the UDO can be viewed online at the county’s website, https//:co.currituck.nc.us. At the top of the screen select “government” and next “minutes & agendas.” Scroll down to Past Meetings and at the link for the Jan. 22 commissioners’ meeting, click the “minutes” link. The information pertaining to the solar farm amendment begins on page 5. 

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